By Jedidiah McKeehan

It can be a daunting, and expensive, experience to hire an attorney, especially when you hear the sorts of numbers thrown around – million dollar settlements, $500.00 an hour, “we don’t get paid until you get paid!”
What does all of this mean to you? Well, you want to be clear on the different types of payment arrangements offered to retain an attorney, as well as which situation is the most common for that arrangement type.

Flat Fee: Simple and straightforward
The first payment arrangement option is the flat fee where an attorney will charge you one flat fee for a specific scope of work. This is usually done in simple matters like wills and basic contracts.

Hourly Rate: Billed against a retainer
The second, and most common, type of payment arrangement is to be billed by the hour. In these cases, the attorney will typically charge you an initial retainer of several thousand dollars which they will bill against hourly as they work on your case. Attorneys typically work for no less than $150.00 an hour, and the most experienced attorneys can bill as high as $400.00 or $500.00 an hour (at least in Tennessee). The initial retainer amount is often the attorney’s best guess as to what it will to take to get the case, “done.” However, cases can take on added elements or become more difficult than initially intended. If that happens and the initial retainer is used up, the attorney may require another retainer amount, or they may send the client monthly invoices reflecting the new amount owed. Hourly cases can be divorces, contract disputes, or landlord/tenant cases, to name a few.
Contingency Fee: Based on outcome
The third type of payment arrangement is a contingency fee arrangement. This is normally done on personal injury, worker’s compensation and social security disability cases where the client won’t get any money on the case until the end, potentially, and the attorney collects a percentage of the award – usually 20 to 30 percent. This really only applies to cases the attorney believes can be won since they are taking all of the financial risk in the situation in doing all of the work on the case prior to being paid.
There may be other payment arrangement options available, so be sure to discuss those options with your attorney before signing any contract.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.